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Risk Factors for Problematic Social Media

by Yael Dror, M.A.

There are many neutral factors of social media; however, the most popular established in the current literature of research are personality types, attachment styles, and emotional intelligence. Personality can be described as an individual’s dynamic system that creates traits such as behaviors, feelings, and thoughts (Allport, 1961; Kircaburun et al., 2020). There are many different definitions of personality types, but the five main ones are extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. Neuroticism, introversion, and conscientiousness have been associated with higher problematic social media use (Kircaburun et al., 2020; Marino et al., 2016).

Attachment theory refers to a person’s characteristic ways of relating to caregiving and receiving relationships, such as with parents, children, and romantic partners (Bowlby, 1983; Levy et al., 2011). This attachment begins in infancy and develops throughout the lifespan. Anxiously attached individuals tend to be insecure in their relationships and often seek out reassurance (Blackwell et al., 2017). Anxiously attached individuals also use social media to maintain relationships and seek social feedback (Blackwell et al., 2017). Past research has found that anxious attachment is related to using and seeking feedback on social media (Blackwell et al., 2017; Hart et al., 2015; Oldmeadow et al., 2013).

Emotional intelligence is defined as one’s ability to perceive and express emotion, use emotion in thought and reasoning, and regulate emotion in oneself and others (Cherniss, 2010). Individuals with low emotional intelligence may use social media to procrastinate or avoid real-life responsibilities (Meier et al., 2016; Süral et al., 2019). Furthermore, lower emotional intelligence is associated with higher levels of perceived stress (Ruiz-Aranda et al., 2014; Urquijo et al., 2016). Unsurprisingly, stress is significantly linked to problematic social media use (Hou et al., 2017; Hussain & Griffiths, 2021), which supports the proposal that stress is a mediating effect in the association between emotional intelligence and problematic social media use (Miguel et al., 2017). Süral et al. (2019) found that passing time and presenting the popular self on social media mediated lower emotional intelligence’s relationship to social media use disorder (Tang et al., 2022). Individuals who use social media to better understand their environment and selves are more likely to have greater levels of problematic social media use (Schivinski et al., 2020).

Overall, all these different individual traits can be a contributing factor to one’s susceptibility to developing problematic social media use. It can be beneficial to be aware of one’s own individual traits and tendencies such as personality type, attachment style, and degree of emotional intelligence. These aren’t distinctions to guarantee someone might have problematic social media use but they can bring awareness to the risk factor of misusing social media in a negative way to have a negative effect.



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